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Dealing With the Homeless

February 25, 1986

This is in regard to your article (Feb. 17) on Santa Monica becoming a haven for the homeless.

Santa Monica is not unique; most communities in the Los Angeles area have been impacted by the growing number of homeless. The increase in the number of homeless on the Westside is not, as Mary Lee Gray stated, because Santa Monica "does much more for the homeless than most cities." With 700 to 1,000 homeless and only 100 beds, this is clearly not the draw.

There are more homeless today than at any time since the Depression and the Westside is perceived as one of the safer places to sleep on the street. The real problem is the county.

The county has dumped its responsibility to the homeless onto the private sector, which cannot pick up the burden. Because of the low general relief (GR) grant ($228 a month, $143 designated for housing), a destitute person cannot rent a room for a full month, even when spending 100% of his income, because the average room on Skid Row is $240 a month. In addition, 2,000 destitute individuals are put on 60-day penalties each month. This means they have no means of support for two months--4,000 people each night are without a roof because of 60-day penalties.

These facts are known to the Board of Supervisors. On Feb. 14, at the meeting of the Countywide Coalition for the Homeless, Mary Lee Gray listened to two hours of testimony from 15 agency representatives who detailed the impact of the low general relief and the 60-day penalty.

By a unanimous vote, the coalition voted to support the campaign to raise the housing component of the relief grant to a sum sufficient for a month's rent and to replace the 60-day penalty with a more human sanction.

The issue now rests with the Board of Supervisors. Only Deane Dana's vote is needed to help thousands of homeless off the street. If Dana is as interested in the plight of the homeless as he claims to be, this vote would be the best way to demonstrate his concern.

MARY BRENT WEHRLI

Los Angeles

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